By Cole Parkinson
Sunny South News
The strike/lockout is behind us now and ballplayers are back on the diamond as the MLB season draws near. And the Toronto Blue Jays have already made a big acquisition that shores up their infield.
They made a trade for Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman for Kevin Smith, Kirby Snead, Zach Logue, and Gunnar Hoglund which now means third base is locked down for at least the next two years. I love the trade — the Jays are buying relatively low on Chapman who had a down offensive year, but there’s absolutely no denying he’s one of the best defenders at the hot corner. The Jays couldn’t nail down an everyday third baseman last year that could provide both offence and defence, and Chapman will bring both.
Chapman may not be known for hitting for average, but I also don’t think he’s as bad as his stat line looked last season. In 2021, he hit 27 home runs, collected 72 RBI, an OPS on .716, and a batting average of .210. The biggest flaw Chapman has at the plate is he strikes out a ton — around 30 per cent last season. If he can knock that number down a bit, he’ll be just fine in the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre this season. And the Jays have already seen other players cut down their swing and miss in the organization — namely Teoscar Hernandez and Randal Grichuk — so it’s defiantly a possibility with Chapman as well.
The most exciting thing for me though is the defence he brings. Chapman had a 3.5 WAR last season and most of that came from his defence and power stroke. The third baseman has three gold gloves and two platinum gloves, and his career fielding percentage is .970. The Jays see plenty of ground balls to the left side of the diamond and this will not only help them, but also shortstop Bo Bichette who will be able to play closer to second base. It’s a great deal all around, and despite the fact he hits right-handed, it’s pretty much a perfect fit for the Blue Jays.
They also add Yusei Kikuchi on a three-year deal right before Spring Training started and the lefty looks like a great fifth option in the rotation. He throws hard, but gives up lots of hard contact and is prone to missing the plate. Last year’s Cy Young winner Robbie Ray was profiled the exact same way, but Jays’ pitch coach Pete Walker worked hard with him and the results were outstanding. I wouldn’t expect Cy Young results or anything, but the Jays have already proven they can help pitchers return to form. If Kikuchi can be a solid five option that has an under 4.00 ERA and give them tons of innings, that’s great.
The bulk of the lineup looks the same with Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, and Reese McGuire playing behind the dish, Vlad Guerrero Jr. at first, Bichette at SS, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in left, (a healthy) George Springer in centre, and Hernandez and Grichuk in right. The loss of Marcus Semien likely sees Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal split time at second, and I like both of those players. They may not be top of the lineup bats, but they both get on base at decent clips. If Biggio is healthy this year, I think he can provide tons of RBI opportunities for the rest of the lineup.
Pitching-wise, the Jays replaced Ray with Kevin Gausman and he should be one of the top two starters for the team along with Jose Berrios. Alek Manoah will look to build on his great rookie season and Hyun-Jin Ryu will look to bounce back after a mediocre second season as a Jay. Nate Pearson and Ross Stripling could also slot into the rotation at some point during the season, and I expect them to be in the bullpen on Opening Day.
Finally, the pen will see Jordan Romano and Tim Mayza return as high leverage arms and they will be joined by free-agent signing Yimi Garcia. Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards will also get their fair share of high leverage situations throughout the season and if they can build on what they did with the Jays last season, the pen will be in great shape. Julian Merryweather and David Phelps looked great until injuries derailed their seasons — and while I’d love to say Merryweather is a lock to make the bullpen, he’s constantly on the IL. He looked like an absolute weapon early in the season, but until he can prove he can stay healthy, I can’t believe he will be a guy they can use on an everyday basis.
We’re only a couple of weeks away from Opening Day and rumours continue to swirl around the Jays landing Cleveland Guardians 3B/2B superstar Jose Ramirez. If the Jays were able to make that deal without giving up the farm, it would make them a bonafide World Series threat. While I don’t think it’s going to happen before Opening Day, the smoke continues to rise and it’s obvious the Jays are serious about getting him. And I’m in the camp you trade prospects for these types of players. Most prospects never reach the ceilings they’re given. The only guy I’d be hesitant to include would be catching prospect Gabriel Moreno and the Jays are obviously of the same mind.
Either way, the Jays are poised to improve on their 91 win season from a year ago. The postseason has also been expanded, so the Jays have a great shot of at least making the dance come October. But before we get ahead of ourselves, there are still 162 games to play and anything can in baseball.